Starvation Spurs Epidemics in Polish Cities, Gottlieb Reports

Epidemics of typhus among Jews in Warsaw, Lodz and other localities in Nazi Poland were reported today in a message from Warsaw brought here by Dr. Joshuah Gottlieb, former editor of the Warsaw Yiddish daily Moment, who arrived in Paris en route to Palestine.

Declaring that “the epidemics are due chiefly to starvation and exhaustion,” Dr. Gottlieb said that in Lodz the disease was taking a heavy toll in the poor Jewish section known as Balut, while in Warsaw it was spreading in the ghetto without any attempt by the Nazi authorities to check the epidemic.

Dr. Gottlieb revealed that his wife was killed by the explosion of a German bomb in a Warsaw street while she was administering relief to victims of the bombardment. He praised the work of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee during the invasion and afterward, declaring it was the only assistance available to the Warsaw Jews.

The former editor said that when he left Warsaw last week “there was the danger that the relief activities will have to be temporarily curtailed unless urgent financial assistance arrives from abroad.”

Many persons in Paris have received the first direct communications since the war from relatives in Soviet Poland in the form of telegrams marked “via Moscow.” It was the first direct connection between Paris and the Soviet-occupied territory. No such connections exist yet with Nazi Poland. Despite all efforts of the International Red Cross, the German authorities refuse to admit any mail into this area.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: ISAAC GITERMAN, FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS DIRECTOR OF THE JOINT DISTRIBUTION COMMITTEE’S ACTIVITIES IN WARSAW, WAS TRAPPED IN POLAND DURING THE GERMAN INVASION BUT FINALLY MANAGED TO REACH WILNO, WHERE HE HAS ORGANIZED RELIEF FOR HOMELESS REFUGEES. IN THIS DISPATCH HE DESCRIBES HIS EXPERIENCES.)

I am unable to represent the situation so as to make it possible for people living under normal conditions to get an idea of a still existing reality. Not only do I know the situation but I have gone through many of these horrors myself.

I had only a few hours left to leave my home. I parted with my wife and son, and the idea that they might be buried under the ruins of Warsaw haunted me for weeks like a nightmare.

I had been exposed myself to machine-gun fire with my daughter. Bombs exploded at our feet and scores of people died in our presence. One moment it seemed as though my daughter were among the killed. These were days when I could not get a piece of bread for my child.

But it was not only through my own experiences that I became thoroughly acquainted with the situation. Beginning with the first day (of the German invasion, Sept. 1) I organized the relief work on behalf of the Joint Distribution Committee, trying to allay misery and suffering. My work brought me into contact with thousands of people, and I heard thousands of dreadful stories.

In hundreds of cases I witnessed tragedies of families separated through the events. A son of our collaborator, I. Neustadt, lost his wife and one-year-old boy while traveling through Poland. He was later seen at Rovno, barefoot and ill-clad, cleaning barracks for a piece of bread.

I did not know the limits of human misery when I thought that the Zbonszyn tragedy (the isolation of several thousand deportees from Germany in the “no-man’s land” at the Polish border in November, 1938) was the worst that human beings could possibly endure. Compared with our situation Zbonszyn seemed a paradise.

“How enviable the fate of the Zbonszyn. people was,” an engineer from Poznan exclaimed when he asked me for shoes and underwear. He was formerly a millionaire and owner of three big factories, and had at that time shown much interest in the relief work for the refugees at Zbonszyn. Now his wife and only child had to be fed at one of the kitchens established by the J.D.C.

There can be no comparison between the Zbonszyn tragedy and that of a town named Pultusk. The fact that all the Jews of Pultusk were ordered to leave the town on 20 minutes’ notice was not the worst calamity that befell them. I am sure nobody would believe the full story of what happened there. Yet Pultusk was only a little episode of what happened in Poland.

There were 18,000 Jews in Jaroslaw, 15,000 in Zamosc, more than 20,000 in Wloclawek and 10,000 in Ostrolenka who were given only a few hours — in some cases minutes — to leave their home towns. No less than 50 smaller towns could be added to this list.

Within a few hours 75 townships were burned down completely. More than 500,000 Jews who have lost family members and all their property are now without a home and suffering from hunger and cold on Soviet territory; 150,000 Jews were evicted from their houses within a few hours; the homes of more than 100,000 Jews were destroyed by fire. The moral and physical sufferings of the 1,500,000 Jews who remained under German rule are indescribable. No one who has not seen the present horrible tragedy of Poland, unparalleled throughout the ages, can realize its full extent.

In Wilno the J.D.C. has coped with the situation. Nobody suffers any longer from hunger in this region, nor will anybody, we hope, suffer from cold after the distribution of warm clothing. Our relief work is also being partially extended to all the other areas. Our colleagues in Warsaw are displaying great heroism in their work, but relief there is not sufficient, In a few days tens of thousands may perish from starvation and exposure if relief is not forthcoming.

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